When should children get their first smartphones? It’s a problem many moms and dads face.
Now, a growing number of parents and experts say it shouldn’t happen before eighth grade — and with good reason.
Wait Until 8th, an organization comprised of educators, pediatricians and parents, cites numerous problems when kids get smartphones too early.
For instance, smartphones are changing childhood. Children spend between 3 to 7 hours per day in front of a screen, leaving little time for traditional activities such as chores, schoolwork, playing outdoors, spending time with friends and interacting with family members.
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Smartphones are addictive. A 2014 study at Elon University found that students who were deprived of their cellphones experienced increased agitation and anxiety alongside feelings of intense deprivation, symptoms generally associated with drug or alcohol dependence.
Children’s grades suffer when they have smartphones. A Kent State University study published in 2016 drew a correlation between increased cell use and a decrease in academic performance.
Smartphones interfere with children’s sleep. Adolescents are more likely to be restless as they anticipate incoming texts and social media updates from their friends. Some kids even wake up in the middle of the night to check for new postings.
If parents feel a need to keep in contact with their youngsters, Wait Until 8th recommends purchasing basic phones or two-way calling watches. These allow users to make and receive calls and to send and receive texts without the dangers and distractions associated with smartphones.
Wait Until 8th considers eighth grade as an acceptable age for having a smartphone. Some adolescents may be mature enough at that point to handle such devices. Others may need more time.
Health website WebMD advises parents to assess each child’s level of responsibility by asking themselves, “Are my kids generally trustworthy? Are they organized? Do they make good decisions? Can they keep track of their belongings?” If so, then an iPhone may be an appropriate next step.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
Make the call
Consider these household rules for cellphone usage, adapted from WebMD:
Set limits. Cap the number of texts children can send or receive as well as the number of minutes they can use their cellphones. If kids go over the allotted plan, they pay the extra charges. Older teens can be responsible for their entire cell bills. Also, block internet access and calls from unapproved numbers.
Set more limits. Designate time that the cellphone must be turned off — such as during meals, during school or after 10 p.m. Never allow a teen to use the phone while driving. Insist kids answer your calls and texts right away, and teach them not to answer or return calls and texts from people they don’t know.
Be a good role model. Demonstrate cellphone behaviors and rules that you want them to use.
Teach good behavior. Discuss elements of cellphone etiquette and safety, such as the importance of not spreading rumors, having personal conversations in public areas, taking or posting photos without others’ permission or sending inappropriate photos or texts. Teach children to never communicate with strangers, no matter how they present themselves.
Emphasize that you are ultimately in charge. You have full authority to repossess the cellphone at any time, no questions asked.